“The nation’s largest health insurer expects to play a much bigger role in the health care overhaul next year, as the federal law shifts from raising giant questions for the sector to offering growth opportunities.
UnitedHealth Group said Thursday that it will participate in as many as 24 of the law’s individual health insurance exchanges in 2015, up from only four this year.
These state-based exchanges debuted last fall as a way for customers to buy individual health insurance, many with help from income-based tax credits. They played a key role in helping roughly 8 million people gain coverage for 2014.
But UnitedHealth and other insurers approached them cautiously, in part because they had little information about the health of the people who would sign up. That uncertainty was compounded by a provision in the overhaul that prevents them from rejecting applicants based on health.
Now, some of that uncertainty is starting to dissipate, which gives insurers ‘‘a little more confidence to try to tap into some of the opportunities,’’ said Jennifer Lynch, an analyst who covers the sector for BMO Capital Markets.”
“UnitedHealthcare, the insurance giant that largely sat out the health law’s online marketplaces’ first year, said Thursday it may sell policies through the exchanges in nearly half the states next year.
“We plan to grow next year as we expand our offering to as many as two dozen state exchanges,” Stephen Hemsley, CEO of UnitedHealth Group, the insurance company’s parent, told investment analysts on a conference call. He was referring to coverage sold to individuals.
The move represents a major acceleration for the company and a bet that government-subsidized insurance, sold online without regard for pre-existing illness, is here to stay. UnitedHealthcare sells individual policies through government exchanges in only four states now.
Even analysts who follow the company closely seemed surprised.
“You’re making a really big move,” Kevin Fischbeck, an analyst for Bank of America, told the company’s executives. “You’re going to do a couple dozen states. You’ve really moved in. What’s giving you the confidence … that it’s going to be stable next year?”
The answer, the bosses said, is that the marketplaces look sustainable, even without some of the reinsurance and risk-spreading backstops put in place for carriers in the first few years. They know the prices now, they said. They know the regulations. They know how consumers are behaving.”
“Medicare spending growth will be slow again in 2014 relative to historical standards, and some of the usual suspects are now crediting the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — for the good news. For instance, a recent post at Vox suggests that the slowdown in Medicare spending can be attributed, in part, to the ACA’s provision penalizing hospitals for excessive readmissions of previously treated patients.
This is nonsense.
At the time of the ACA’s enactment in March 2010, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the readmission provision would reduce Medicare spending by $0.3 billion in 2014, and only $7.1 billion over a decade. That’s about one tenth of 1 percent of total Medicare spending over that time period. There has been no information from any source since 2010 suggesting that the savings from the readmission provision has escalated into a major cost-cutting reform. In the context of overall Medicare spending, the readmissions provision is simply inconsequential.
The same can be said for the other supposed “delivery system” reforms driven through Medicare and contained in the ACA, such as Accountable Care Organizations and efforts to promote more “bundled” payments to providers of services. These reforms were all assessed by the CBO at the time of enactment and found to be insignificant items in budgetary terms. Moreover, the early experience with these changes indicates they are unlikely to dramatically alter the way health care is delivered to Medicare patients.”
“The White House has begun its search for the next stewards of HealthCare.gov.
A contract solicitation posted online Wednesday enumerates the qualifications and requirements of the next Obamacare website contractor, charged with keeping the online federal health insurance exchange portal up and running.
The 60-page job posting says the next caretaker of the Obamacare site will need to be able to work “under aggressive time constraints” to work with the Federally Facilitated Marketplace in testing and upgrading a variety of hardware, software, and security features. It also states that the contractor will need to be able to perform tests that can demonstrate that the site can function when a large number of users are online.
Accenture currently holds a one-year contract to run HealthCare.gov, which was awarded after a no-bid process back in January. That came after the White House chose to terminate CGI Federal’s contract following HealthCare.gov’s failed launch in October of last year. The website’s rollout was so plagued with problems that for a time it appeared the technical difficulties could severely undermine the implementation of President Obama’s signature legislative achievement.”
“Nine months after Americans began signing up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, a challenging new phase is emerging as confused enrollees clamor for help in understanding their coverage.
Nonprofit organizations across the country are being swamped by consumers with questions. Many are low-income, have never had insurance and have little knowledge of the health-care system. The rampant confusion poses a potential hurdle for the success of the health law: If many Americans don’t understand how health insurance works, that could hurt their ability to use their benefits — or to keep their coverage altogether.
Community organizations are scrambling to keep up with the larger-than-anticipated demand, but they are stretched thin. A federal program to help consumers has also run out of money.
“We are hearing this in probably every state that we work in,” said Christine Barber, a senior policy analyst with Community Catalyst, a Boston-based advocacy organization that works with community groups in more than 40 states. “ ‘Okay, I have my card. What do I do now?’ ””
“Primary care doctors have reported problems making referrals for patients who have purchased some of the cheaper plans from the federal insurance marketplace. Complaints about narrow networks with too few doctors have attracted the attention of federal regulators and have even prompted lawsuits.
But they’re also causing headaches in the day-to-day work of doctors and clinics. “The biggest problem we’ve run into is figuring out what specialists take a lot of these plans,” said Dr. Charu Sawhney of Houston.
Sawhney is an internist at the Hope Clinic, a federally qualified health center in southwest Houston, in the bustling heart of the Asian immigrant community. Her patients speak 14 different languages, and many of them are immigrants or refugees from places as far flung as Burma and Bhutan. Most of her patients are uninsured, which means she is familiar with problems of access.
But the limited options of some of the HMOs sold on the marketplace surprised even her.
“I was so consumed with just getting people to sign up,” she said, “I didn’t take the next step to say ‘Oh by the way, when you sign up, make sure you sign up for the right plan.’”
Understandably, a lot of Sawhney’s patients picked lower-cost plans, “and we’re running into problems with coverage in the same way we were when they were uninsured.””
“Looking for a place where Obamacare doesn’t exist? Try moving to the U.S. Territories, where the Obama administration just provided a pretty big waiver from the law’s major coverage provisions.
The Affordable Care Act’s design dealt a pretty big problem to the territories. It required insurers there to comply with the law’s major market reforms — guaranteed coverage, mandated benefits, limits on profits, etc. — without requiring residents to get coverage or providing subsidies to help them afford coverage. The territories — Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands — have been warning for years that would destroy their insurance markets. The individual mandate and the subsidies are the major ways the ACA tries to bring healthy people into the individual insurance market to balance out sick patients who can no longer be denied coverage.
That was until Wednesday, when the Obama administration told the territories that the coverage requirements actually don’t apply to them. The exemption was posted on a Health and Human Services Web site on Thursday.
It’s an apparent reversal from last July, when a HHS official told the territories there was nothing HHS could do to help them out.”
“During the open enrollment period for the state and federal health care exchanges, each staff member and volunteer worked with an average of 1.8 people per day, according to a survey of assister programs released by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser calculated the number of people receiving aid between October 1, 2013 and the end of April, 2014:
More than 4,400 Assister Programs, employing more than 28,000 full-time-equivalent staff and volunteers, helped an estimated 10.6 million people during the first Open Enrollment period.
If you do the math, 28,000 individuals assisting 10.6 million people over 210 days breaks down to 1.8 people per day per service representative. While the individualized guidance was time consuming, the study revealed that the assister programs should have been able to help more people in the span of a full workday. The questionnaire answers indicated that 64 percent of the programs spent an average of 1-2 hours with each person, 18 percent took 2-3 hours, and just five percent exceeded three hours.
The assister programs faced a myriad of other issues too. From the New York Times (buried deep in the second to last paragraph):
About four in 10 of the programs could not help everyone who approached them, the survey found, and 12 percent said the demand for help far exceeded their capacity to provide it. Nine of 10 programs said clients had already returned to them with post-enrollment problems.”
“”Responding to inquiries from federal officials, the California health department has released a plan it says will dramatically slash its backlog of Medi-Cal applications within six weeks.
For months, the state has labored under the largest such pile-up in the country, with 900,000 pending cases reported in May—the combined result of unexpectedly high application numbers and bug-ridden computer systems.
In a letter to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services on Monday, the California Department of Health Care Services said that it had reduced its application backlog to 600,000 by the start of this month. State officials also outlined a plan for technology fixes and administrative workarounds that they project will nearly halve that figure by the end of August—with most of those applications being processed within the allowed 45-day window. The letter was made public Tuesday.”
“The Affordable Care Act is the worst piece of legislation ever passed into law in the United States. It was poorly conceived, poorly written, poorly enacted, and is being poorly implemented. The thing is a mess. However, it does open up some doors that were firmly locked before—things that most free-market economists have been espousing for years without success. We should not run away from those things just because they have President Obama’s name on it.
I am not talking about the things the idiot media think are popular—the slacker mandate, open enrollment, equal premiums for men and women, and free “preventative” services. These are all terrible ideas for reasons I won’t go into here (unless you insist).
I’m talking specifically about several more important elements of the law that were not well crafted in this particular bill, but can now be used as precedents for major improvements in American health care.”